FORTUNATE: Twin Cities and Toledo Played Their Second-to-Last Games of the Season Monday as Summer League Ball Winds to a Close
With a sweltering 100-degree heat and a merciful breeze blowing in from the northwest, the Toledo Indians hammered out a 16-6 win over the Twin Cities Eagles in a 17U baseball game Monday night at Stan Hedwall Park in Chehalis.
The score didn’t really matter. The coaches didn’t even trade lineups before the game. Two Toledo players each wore a No. 7 jersey. One Eagles player wore his coach’s jersey; another just wore No. 10 with no name on the back.
It’s because this game is one of the only shows in the county right now — really one of the few in the state. And the players and coaches know it.
“We are fortunate to play this game,” Twin Cities head coach Helvy Mavarez said. “Especially with all that’s happening right now. With all we’ve went through these past few months, to get back out there is giving people hope that we’re going to be OK. We’ve just got to be safe.”
Twin Cities is now about 16 games into a season that almost never happened. First it was the global pandemic that hit in March that canceled the high school seasons for all the players.
When Lewis County entered phase three of the state’s four-phase plan on June 19, sporting events were allowed for the first time in nearly four months. Many counties around the state were still in phase one or two and were yearning for a place to play, said Twin Cities manager Scott Gutschmidt, who started the local 17U league here in Lewis County four years ago.
“My phone was just going off… everywhere, Yakima, it didn’t matter where they were from,” Gutschmidt said. “‘Can we come down? Can we come down?’ I had a guy call me and said, ‘If you can find a piece of dirt we’ll come down and play.’”
Two days later the Eagles were on the field for opening day. Mavarez and Gutschmidt had been keeping a close eye on the news and kept their players updated throughout. The Eagles kicked off the season by playing three doubleheaders against Kelso and Westport.
And not all teams were gung-ho about coming over to play. Gutschmidt had to cancel some tourneys he had scheduled earlier in the year as teams began dropping out as the pandemic continued to grow and uncertainty swelled.
Then on July 14, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a freeze on counties advancing in phases of the state’s four-phase ‘Safe Start’ plan until at least July 28. On July 16, Inslee adjusted the rules for social gatherings, dropping the number for Phase 3 counties, which includes Lewis County, from 50 down to 10. There was and still is some speculation whether or not that includes sporting events.
On July 21, Lewis County’s health officer prohibited tournaments in the county with athletes under 18 years old. The following day the health officer amended the order to include players of any age from outside the county. With out-of-county competitors no longer able to play here, it sliced Twin Cities and Toledo’s schedules in half.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Mavarez said. “So many rules and guidelines we had to follow in order to play. It’s been tough, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do in order to play. These kids love the game. Playing ball gives them something good to think about.”
Another roadblock is that many of these players are now old enough to work and many of them have jobs, so it’s been a struggle scheduling games now knowing which players will be available. With a 16-player roster, Twin Cities would show up to games with only eight or nine kids. The Eagles also lost their star pitcher Zack Rone, the only kid during the pandemic who was still hitting in a batting cage and keeping his arm fresh during the opening blow of the pandemic. He pulled his tendon just 16 pitches into the Eagles first game and was out for the season.
With only three in-county teams in the league that are eligible to play now, Twin Cities, Toledo and Rural Baseball Inc. from Winlock, the season is drawing to an end on Friday with one final game and a closing ceremony. Rural Baseball has called it a season as a large portion of their team is players from Cowlitz County.
Toledo and Twin Cities will square off at 5:30 p.m. Friday, at Toledo High School in the season finale.
“We’re done,” Gutschmidt. “There’s no team’s left to play. I could have 100 teams down here playing all day long from Seattle, Kelso, they all want to come down. But we can’t bring anyone down. But we had fun. We got to play. That’s the biggest thing.”